Where Do You Rank with Photography Snobs?

Editorial photographers used to jump from one story to another. News was news — whether sports, conflict, celebrity or natural disaster. A photojournalist would shoot a head of state one hour and a celebrity the next. And he or she would do so with the same talent, the same intense dedication to quality.

Today, many photographers prefer to categorize themselves in self-assigned niches. News photographers hardly talk to sports photographers anymore. Everybody has their group, association, blogs, and forums.

Photography has its social classes, almost like a feudal society. It has its kings and knights, its jesters and courtesans, and of course, the peasants.

So where do you rank on the totem pole of photo-snobbery? Here’s a quick take, starting with the photographers most respected (by snobs) —

1. Conflict Photographer.

      The bigger the scarf around the neck, the more important you are. It’s like a medal of honor. Conflict photographers are treated as heroes, regardless of the quality of their images. It is not so much what they bring back that matters, but what they go through to get it. They even earn more credentials if, heaven forbid, they are wounded or killed. The path to legendary status is then almost a given.

2. Fine Art Photographer. If your works seems to carry a hidden message that no one understands, or is “disturbing,” or both — you’re in. The more academic titles you have, and the more awards (even unknown awards) you’ve received, the higher your ranking on the totem pole. Books, exhibits, and speaking engagements are a plus.

3. Documentary Photographer. Even one photo story on dying children in Africa goes a long way. It’s even better if you use multimedia. A crappy documentary photographer is 20 times more respected than the best red carpet photographer.

4. Magazine Cover Photographer. It doesn’t matter that the end product is highly retouched by on computer. Magazine cover photographers often enjoy privileged celebrity status; it helps to be a great schmoozer. Being a good photographer is irrelevant. It’s all about who you know.

5. Corporate Photographer. We’re heading down the totem pole now — but taking pictures of CEOs and lawyers still brings respectability. The longer you do it, the more respected you’re likely to be. Not for your talent, but for the mere fact that you have been around for so long.

6. Commercial Stock Shooter. The higher the nose is pointing, the more important the photographer.

7. Sports Photographer. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

8. Wedding Photographer. So plebeian.

9. Celebrity Photographer. If you are a photographer with a lot of talent shooting every day because people hire you all the time, then you are a “peasant,” a laborer. Especially if you work in the celebrity field. Although everyone will tell you that celebrity photography is what sells these days, it is considered by photo snobs a sub art form, a dirty job, like cleaning the sewers. Celebrity photographers are completely ignored at photo festivals, trade shows, photo museums and even workshops. They are like a family member you keep locked in the basement.

10. Paparazzi Photographer. The scum of the earth, right? How dare they take pictures of people without their approval! Of course, documentary photographers also invade privacy, don’t they? But I guess that’s OK because it’s in Africa or Afghanistan and not Hollywood.

11. Amateurs and Microstock Shooters. How dare they even make this list!

As a reminder, where you rank on this list has little or nothing to do with talent. After all, the “best” photographers these days don’t take pictures anymore and have assistants doing it for them. No one seems to mind.

32 Responses to “Where Do You Rank with Photography Snobs?”

  1. Paul:

    I agree there are categories of photographers. I also think the rankings are different depending on which group one may associate themselves.

    I also find many who do not put people a caste society.

    At conferences even in these groups there is snobbery. People look at your name tags and look for where you work under your name--that is if you are not a big name in the industry.

    Awareness of this is good to know, so as to not offend folks or engage in this game.

    If you choose to play this game it will sooner of later come to bite you. I have seen folks blow people off only later to encounter them when they are now in a position to hire them. I have also seen folks do this and instantaneously have negative consequences.

    Treat everyone with respect. Sure learn who you want to learn from and how to politely not let those time wasters eat up your day. But please don't play this game.

  2. I would like to work on the documentary field, however after years of looking through images, its the image that matters not the photographer.

    Yes there is snobbery, I've seen it, but in the end most jobs are about who you know! That's the problem, I would wish I was a paid photographer...

  3. Seems like a honest list. Personally I believe why people hate paparazzis is they never stop. They hount night and day and 24/7 and they take _all_ privacy out of a human being they are photographying.

  4. I admit it...I am a snob. I am a Fine Art Photographer and am proud of it. But what fascinates me....is that here is this tool, the piece of technological equipment...this camera....and look at all the things it can do. What the images produced can become. Documenter, storyteller, dream translator, memory keeper, thought stimulator, conversation starter....Amazing, YES?

  5. Wait, where do nature photographers fit?

  6. I enjoyed this. I'm mostly a performing-arts photographer, and was relieved to see we didn't even make the snob list!

    (No surprise there: when the big-scarf boys start swapping stories about cheating death in Afghanistan, my story about the temperamental conductor kicking me out of the balcony at an opera rehearsal just doesn't cut it...)

    But although I think the observations ring true, the big question is still unanswered: WHO are these "snobs" and why does anyone even care what they think?

    There's no doubt that their opinions have an effect -- you can see it in what gets in the annuals and wins the big documentary awards (where a murky essay about The Plight of Children with Disease X would trump a visually brilliant piece about The Researchers Who Found a Cure for Disease X.)

    But HOW do their snobbish opinions infiltrate the field and do their work? It's like an invisible vapor that corrodes the gears of common sense.

  7. I thought I was #11, then I remembered I live in South Florida, which automatically qualifies me as a Conflict Photographer. Try fighting a Boca hag for a spot in the mall parking lot if you don't believe me.

    Also, I agree with the other poster about nature photogs. We have many down here shooting birds with $10K of gear hanging around their necks while strolling in manicured parks who will not, ever, say hello as you pass or even acknowledge your existence unless your camera is clearly larger and more expensive. Real down-to-earth nature lovers.

  8. Nature photographers can be #6 unless if published in National Geographic Magazine. Then they can almost reach number #1 status.
    Seriously, this has to stop.

  9. Great take Paul. Here's another version:
    "The Seven Levels of Photographers -
    A Spiritual and Satirical Guide"

  10. LOL @ triplight. I also live in South Florida so I believe I am a conflict photographer as well.

  11. Folks have labled me a geekarazzi...

    Just stick me in amature, I suppose.


  12. So funny but so true! And the swell of amateur talent meeting new converging equipment is going to increasingly raise the snob level.

  13. Oh, my God. I'm so depressed now. I didn't make the snob list. Oh, woe is me! Oh, woe is me!

    I actually like being a photographer. Oh, I'm so (sic) miserable.

    (pausing to think for a moment)


  14. Hay guys,

    Where do us wire snappers fit in to the fix....:)

  15. Paul.. you seem like a nice guy. It's too bad you don't seem to have any idea what you're talking about.

    There are only three categories in this convoluted list you've made up. Editorial, Commercial, and Art. It's apples and oranges.

    To anyone who is offended by not being nodded at by another photographer, get over it! If I see a guy with 10 grand worth of gear looking for a bird, by God I think he's earned the right to avoid interaction with anyone. Does that make him a snob? What's funny is that I think some of you may actually need an answer to that question.

    Anyway, best of luck, Paul. You're full of crap, but you've managed to garnish quite a following. I have to give you kudos for that.

  16. Wes... you do realize Paul was satirizing the attitude of "photography snobs," not espousing that attitude himself... right?

  17. Ranger, I should have focused my attack on the fact that this list seems to reflect a believed truth by the author. It leaves the same bad taste in my mouth as when I hear a woman complain about the shortage of good men, even in humor.

    Part of my response was to Paul, for contriving a list that doesn't make much sense, even satirically, and part of it was to his responders that took it so seriously. I obviously failed my own logic by taking it seriously myself. I'll admit to that.

    My whole point was that if anyone wants to be taken seriously as a photographer, they'll have to bite the bullet if another photographer doesn't want to play grab-ass.

    As far as self-assigning niches, I agree, it's lame. Even though there are definitely big benefits to becoming known for your work in a given field, but if someone corrects me by adding "music" or "performance" or "nature" to the title of photographer, I'm a lot more likely to label them something else altogether.

    But I digress... I promised myself I'd play nice if I needed to defend my response.

    Final thought: when it becomes less about photos and more about photography or "being a photographer", it's no different than someone who knows everything about cars and nothing about driving.

  18. Wes:

    Satire: A written work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit.

  19. You could fit me into all categories bar the last two - that makes me a GP General Photographer - and I am proud of it. I do have an issue with your cat 10 though, for I believe in every persons right to privacy. I have friends in all your categories and found them extremely helpful and enjoyed their cameradery. Having said that, many comment of yours ring true and are funny. But are we different from any other profession?

  20. Shame you neglected to add the portrait (family/newborn) or the nature/landscape photographer..

  21. Haha. I enjoyed reading this.

  22. I wonder why photographers are so bitter all the time. Cheer up everyone, its just pictures.

  23. And then there are the gear snobs. Nikon rulz! Canon pwns! Leica eats all their faces for breakfast! Rawrrr!! I'm kind of glad you only focused on the various "kinds" of photographers and not how fanatical they can be about their gears. Whatever gets the job done I always say (though I do admit being a little biased to my Leicas for their size and weight).

  24. I've met a lot of snobby photographers in my career that couldn't shoot themselves out of a wet paper sack.

    And having worked at The Aspen Times in Aspen, Colo., for over 7 years, I've met a lot of the paparazzi and, quite frankly, think they are crap.

    My personal favorites are the pros who are totally outstanding but you wouldn't know they are photographers unless you actually asked them. They don't brag, but let their work stand on its own.

    The greats that are humble and quiet.

  25. "Wait, where do nature photographers fit?"

    Flickr, we don't even mention them, it's like admitting to be a kiddy fiddler.

  26. Nature photographers? Oh, yeah, I have photographed a few naked women!

  27. Having come from a an editorial background myself and having a photojournalist father [Bill Lovelace] who one minute would be covering a war to the next minute shooting a portrait of a celebrity, photo-snobbery never became a part of my upbringing. The secret to being a good photographer is the ability to adapt to whatever situation you are shooting and mood you are trying to create with the same dedication regardless of the nature of the subject.

  28. Adaptation is right! When I lived in Tennessee, I specialized in rivers and streams, and that was IT! I did some landscapes, but I was always searching for water. Then I moved to Arizona. Not much water out here. Now I specialize in historical and historical artchitecture. Talk about a change!

  29. Paul, it's all about the bugs, 'specially from the underside. And being a cockroach that I am, natch, I was trying to craw into Number One space with NG before I even had legs. Vermin are just like that, always trying to get free ride through life.

  30. I'm not sure that photographers categorize themselves in niches as much as demand puts you there based on a strength you show.I have met a lot of high and low end (in terms of successful) photographers while running programs for our Society and and come to realize...snobs in any field are those who look down on others to give themselves height to re-enforce their sense of security ..real, big people, I have found to be very giving,open and passionate about what they do and take you attempts to be, seriously.

    When I first started, I was on a few small newspapers..being young and naive I went to Black Star " Looking for work " thinking they would hire me!
    Friends thought I was nuts as they were the kingpin,you'll never talk to them and who was I..blah blah blah...but I sat in front of Howard Chapnick who turned out to be the nicest most giving man for someone "crowned king" He spent over an hour talking and caring about this nobody, simply because he was real, the difference between snob and accomplished.

  31. I enjoyed your list - I take it as a rant.

    Just one thought on the phenomenon itself:
    Back in the early 90s (my experience is about Germany so maybe in the US it happened at a different time) I had the chance to get a look at a lot of photographers portfolios. Usually they where full of pictures from what today we call "people", "portrait", "nude", "nature", "tarvel", "architecture" and "wildlife". You could not only see the personal style of a photographer, the broad band of subjects photographed (or not!) showed an almost intimate portrait of the photographer itself. Clients liked (or didn't) you, your "eye", your style and gave you the assignment relying on your craftsmanship and artistry. Then the whole system changed when people that had never had a look at a photo (from a professional point of view) came to be editors. They couldn't "read" the pictures anymore (I'm not blaming THEM - it would be the same for me having to chose from modern art - I just cant relate to it's theoretical approach) and they got confused with all the pictures so they asked THE EVIL QUESTION OF THE CENTURY: "What do you REALLY do?"

    While I was so bewildered with the question that I almost choked everytime on the thousands of words that came up all at the same time I still had to face the fact that THEY WERE LOST and that I needed to be clear about what service I provided when I wanted them to trust me.

    So we "cleared the mess", narrowed the portfolios to the one thing we beleived was the most promissing (not the most interesting or artistic - it often was the LEAST artistic). But your existence shapes your conscience: There was no more reason for taking pictures that your commercial mind (that you were forcing on your artistry) labelled as useless you stopped shooting in the first place what couldn't make it into your portfolio anyway.

    It took me almost 15 years to get aware of this and to allow myself to photograph as I did when I started out, enthusiastic and with an open mind and not categorizing what I had in front of my eyes as sellable or not.

    The truth is, I am a photographer not because I didn't know what else to do with my time so I grabbed a camera, BUT because I perceive the world through pictures, I relate to it in my personal way through my viewfinder, I strive to learn from it when I look at its smallest detail, I celebrate it when showing my work to others.

    What is it that you REALLY do?
    I am a photographer.

  32. I love discussions like this. I always tell people I'll shoot anything that doesn't shoot back. LOL I shoot editorial entertainment for Getty Images (celebrity stuff mostly, red carpet) It is a kind of photography that is needed for magazines like People, In Touch, etc. There's nothing wrong with that. It is truly who you know. Very few people actually know what they're doing with their equipment. It's like being a doctor. Some doctors work in small clinics, some work at large hospitals, some work at teaching hospitals and some work in MASH units.

    At the end of the day, we shoot and submit photos to someone who hopefully appreciates them and purchases them. I shoot for my own satisfaction and am ok with providing bright clear images to Getty for publication. I'm also ok with shooting softer less bright images for friends and wedding clients, corporate clients, even celebrity friends who trust me to shoot their family gatherings.

    I'm getting to the point where I'm ready to start shooting pictures with a theme for art exhibits. Why not? I'm doing it for my satisfaction, to earn money and have fun. I love to shoot, always have and always will. I know every inch of my equipment and how to use it and get the desired results. Yet, I learn new ways of doing things every now and then from colleagues and by reading. If you truly love what you do, you'll never WORK a day in your life.

    We've all had shoots from hell. I certainly have. I've met some really awesome people on those shoots from hell. Some of them are regular clients and good friends. Griffin Dunne the actor, said in a seminar I shot, that he rarely turns down projects. Even projects from hell can yield great contacts and connections that can later be utilized for other more rewarding projects. I agree. So, I rarely turn down assignments and that has worked for me.

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